Gender Genesis

Ana Castillo
and the Chicana Experience
Ana Castillo explores influences on Chicanas or female Mexican
Americans in her book
Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on
. She examines forces that shape the identity of La
, including the concept of machismo and the strong
influence of religion.

Women are vital to the idea of
machismo, for much of it is
defined in terms of a man’s relationship to a woman and visa
versa. While some see the concept as including both a man’s
protection of the family and his love for them, in practice it has
often become a way of asserting power when the man feels
powerless. Aggression that grows from oppression is seldom
loving and protective, and these men turn on those considered
weaker: women and children.

But even in prosperous times and among those in power,
machismo can be aggressive. And even when it’s not aggressive
it still includes the idea that the father-husband is the protector
and the woman-child the protected, that other males are
wandering around to attack and molest unprotected women, and
that women are sex objects to be chased by the Latino lover.
Thus woman is defined by the image of man.

This patriarchal system is further emphasized by the Catholic
church, according to Castillo. Christianity and particularly
Catholicism, the most common religion among Chicanos/Latinos,
is primarily a male-dominated religion as practiced in the modern
west. Adam was created by God and given his own breath (in
the Greek the word also means "spirit"); Eve came from Adam.
Adam walked with and spoke with God; Eve was tricked by a
serpent and then brought Adam down. While there are different
interpretations of these scriptures, these have been used to assert
that men should be in charge, and help define a woman’s identity.

At the time of the Conquest in the New World, the balance
between male and female was defined differently. Castillo wrote
that the intellectual Aztecs at the time of the Conquest believed
there was a single dual-based principle that was both masculine
and feminine. In fact, Castillo says that some anthropologists
believe that some elements of a matriarchal structure existed as
late as the 11th century during the civilization of the Toltecs. The
egalitarian ideals have since been lost, although some can still be
found in indigenous populations.

An important aspect of this loss is the change in the interpretation
of Coatlicue, the Mexica Earth Goddess. Both goddess of fertility
and death (the close relationship between creation and
destruction is common in some Eastern religions), her death
aspects became increasingly emphasized.

In the same way Eve or Eva, The Mother of All Living, became
increasingly associated not with life but with the expulsion from
the Garden and the beginning of death. Contrarily, the image of
Jesus’ mother Mary as the brown Virgin of Guadalupe became
increasingly important, probably because it absorbed the identity
of Tonantzin, the Mexic Amerindian mother goddess.

Castillo says this leaves La Chicana with a dilemma; does she
become the pure Virgin Mother Mary or the traitorous prostitute
Eve? And what woman can be a virgin mother? This combination
leaves woman with an impossible role to fulfill (one guesses that
artificial insemination of a virgin would not qualify for a wife,
remembering that a mother must be married). Thus woman is
doomed to failure, and must depend on the macho man. Religion
and machismo work hand in hand to construct La Chicana as
inferior, untrustworthy and necessarily subordinate.

Castillo proposes solutions that are new and yet quite old.
Nurturing need not be viewed as weakness, and the nurturer
should be nurtured. Male and female are both essential parts of
humanity. Menstruation need not be viewed as a "curse," but as a
sign of life-giving power as it once was. A woman who reaches
menopause need not be viewed negatively, as no longer being
able to reproduce, but as reaching a time of wisdom as it was
viewed in many early societies. She sees patriarchy as a holdover
from imperialistic society that is no longer needed.